A New Jersey court, in the case of Gupta v. Asha Enterprises, upheld the right of Hindu vegetarians to sue, and seek monetary damages from, a restaurant which, apparently, served them non-vegetarian samosas. The reason? What the court called “spiritual injury”. You gotta love it – seeking material gain to compensate for a spiritual loss!
In truth, the court’s ruling is important for two reasons. First, what it called spiritual injury was simply a subset of emotional distress, already a non-physical category for which people can get money. Why should spiritual distress or injury be any less significant than the emotional variety? In fact, is there any difference between the two, other than the language used to describe them?
Second, by upholding the possibility of physical payment for what the plaintiffs describe as spiritual harm, the court demonstrated that “physical” and “spiritual” are not clearly defined and separable categories. In fact, the physical and the spiritual are deeply intertwined.
Do we not feel physical symptoms when experiencing great spiritual joy or pain? Don’t primarily physical acts, ranging from intense exercise to great sex, just to name two, sometimes induce altered states of spiritual awareness? Of course they do. The physical and the spiritual are, if separable at all, two sides of the same coin of human experience. We can call them different things, and choose to focus our attentions on one more than the other, but both are always present and inter-dependant.
The lawyers will fight over the Samosas, but the court has taught us all a valuable lesson.